MANHATTAN (CN) - A once-deported Honduran man was improperly convicted of being "found in" the United States after Canadian officials hauled him back over the Rainbow Bridge in handcuffs, the 2nd Circuit ruled.
Walter Vasquez has had a "checkered immigration history in the United States," the appellate court's majority opinion begins.
Arrested in the late 1990s for selling drugs to two undercover agents, Vasquez was deported in 2000, and he returned illegally a year later to purportedly go straight by entering the antique business. He and a friend were traveling from Texas to Niagara Falls about 10 years later when they crossed the Rainbow Bridge and were stopped by Canadian Border Services agents.
Those agents passed a handcuffed and passport-free Vasquez off to U.S. customs officials who learned about his 2000 deportation after running a records check.
A federal jury in Buffalo convicted Vasquez of being "found in" the United States after deportation.
The mostly unanimous 2nd Circuit decided Tuesday that this verdict was not quite true.
"Although Vasquez undeniably broke the laws of the United States at some point after his 2000 deportation, he is not guilty of the crime of which he was convicted," Judge Richard Wesley wrote in the majority opinion. "We are not too troubled by this seeming oddity. Even though we reverse his criminal conviction, Vasquez will (again) be subject to deportation. Moreover, it seems equally anomalous to punish Vasquez for being 'found in' the United States when he was only 'found' based on his attempt to stop living in the United States unlawfully. This would create a disincentive for undocumented, previously deported aliens to do the one thing that Congress would most like them to do - leave."
U.S. District Judge Reena Raggi, sitting on the panel by designation, reached the same opinion through a slightly different legal interpretation, in a concurring opinion. The statute under which Vasquez was convicted had a "general intent" requirement, and Vasquez was "forcibly brought" to the United States, Raggi argued.
Vasquez's public defenders Jayme Feldman and Tracy Hayes said they do not know if their client will be released, but that he has learned about the decision and is excited to be reunited with his mother in Honduras.
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